ANSONIA — Houston has steadily been working towards eliminating fielding errors since struggling in a pair of run-rule losses in the first week of the season.
The Wildcats have made much progress according to coach Brent New and are ready to contend for a Shelby County Athletic League title on Saturday — but they’re still not perfect.
A couple of early fielding issues helped hot-hitting Ansonia take a big early lead in a Division IV sectional final on Friday and allowed the team to cruise to a 7-4 victory.
The Tigers scored five runs on six hits in the first inning to take a 5-1 lead and built a 7-1 advantage before Houston narrowed the final gap with a couple of late runs.
“We played as well as we could those last five or six innings,” Houston coach Brent New said. “It’s one of those things; you just can’t have a bad inning in the tournament.”
Ansonia, the sectional’s No. 7 seed, advances to face No. 1 seed Mechanicsburg in a district semifinal next Tuesday at a site to be determined. Mechanicsburg beat Botkins 21-0 in a sectional final on Friday.
The season isn’t over for Houston. The Wildcats (12-10) will travel to Russia (14-7) for a key Shelby County Athletic League makeup game on Saturday. Russia is 10-1 in conference play while Houston is 9-1.
“For us, the whole season has been about us playing defense,” New said. “I told them that softball-wise, we’re as prepared as we can be. We’re hitting the ball well and we’re playing defense well. We’re ready to go for the championship tomorrow. It’s now or never. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.
“I’m excited for it and I hope they’re excited for it. It’s one of the odd things about softball this time of year that you can have the season mix with the tournament. The biggest thing is that because (the tournament) is over for us, we focus on the league. The number one prize is always winning the league title.”
Megan Maier and Allisen Foster hit one-out singles in the first inning for Houston and Emilee Foster drove in a run with a sacrifice groundout to put the Wildcats ahead 1-0. Ansonia took control with a big hitting outburst in the bottom half.
After Trinity Henderson lined out to start the first, Lauren Burns, MaKayla Sover and Kenzie Singer each hit singles to the outfield. Singer’s single on a grounder drove in Ansonia’s first run.
Heidi Runkel hit a fielder’s choice that resulted in Stover being thrown out a third for the second out of the inning.
A pair of Houston defensive miscues allowed the Tigers to keep the inning going.
Alyssa Naggler hit a single the landed in the middle of the pitching circle and second base, then Aubrey Naggler then hit a short pop that landed between the circle and home plate and allowed one run to score.
Emily Gariety then hit a triple that rolled to the left-field fence to score three runs and put Ansonia ahead 5-1.
“Those couple of mental mistakes hurt, but (Ansonia) hit the ball too,” New said. “We did a great job of shutting them down from there.”
The Tigers added one run in each the second and third innings while Houston managed one hit over the second, third and fourth.
The Wildcats pulled within 7-2 in the fifth after Marah Sanders hit a double to left field and Reese Rosenbeck hit a sacrifice groundout. They added two runs in the sixth when Olivia Bowser hit an RBI double to left field and Addie White hit a sacrifice groundout.
Houston got two runners on base in the seventh with one out after two infield errors by Ansonia but advanced neither past second.
Burns earned the win in the circle for Ansonia while Emilee Foster was charged with the loss. Both pitched complete games.
New gathered the team after the loss and said a win over the Raiders on Saturday would erase any bad feelings of a first-round tournament exit. Russia beat the Wildcats 17-10 in an SCAL game on April 15 in Houston.
“We’ve been able to shut down the mistakes as the year has went on,” New said. “I always preach to them not to make the second mistake. You might boot a ground ball, but then it’s are you going to pick it up and throw it away or something.
“It’s that second mistake that can cost you, and the last six, seven, eight games we haven’t been making that second mistake. When you do that, you can afford to make the first mistake sometimes, and you’re still going to be right there. We have improved dramatically in that mental part of not losing our composure.”
Houston, which lost to Ansonia 7-3 in a nonconference game on March 29, also has an SCAL makeup game with Fort Loramie scheduled for next Thursday.
Saturday’s game will be the last of the year for Russia, which lost 11-0 to Triad in a Div. IV sectional final on Friday.